Is data bigger than the CIO?

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11 April 2016 | 0

Once upon a time the entire ICT community was glad, in an unashamedly partisan way, to welcome the new title of Chief Information Officer and the ascent of any organisation’s top tech person to the C-suite. Two decades or so later, we are caught up in a debate that seems to make something of a nonsense of that CIO position. We are adding Chief Data Officers and Chief Digital Officers (and how do you distinguish the CDOs?) with different positions on the organisation chart and no generally agreed distinctions between Information, Data and Digital.

Some of us, ignorant innocents no doubt, still fail to see much of a distinction in any event and certainly none that warrants the taking away, in any sense, of Data and Digital from the CIO. In our innocence, we thought that Information was a very good and appropriate word, removing the techiness and reminding us of all that for which ICT is actually valuable. The strands that come together through the CIO are those of both the technology and the business. We thought it was appropriate, if a little American, because other titles like IT director or head of ICT placed the emphasis on the tech side.

Once inaccurate data enters the systems, it is much more expensive and difficult to clean it out. In that sense, the CDO is the business owner who instructs the CIO as to how the systems architecture should serve the business activity. It is more about the content than the means of handling it and indeed the data itself is in many respects a product so you have to be concerned about the processes that generate it, Ed Boag, Pioneer Investments

Once inaccurate data enters the systems, it is much more expensive and difficult to clean it out. In that sense, the CDO is the business owner who instructs the CIO as to how the systems architecture should serve the business activity. It is more about the content than the means of handling it and indeed the data itself is in many respects a product so you have to be concerned about the processes that generate it, Ed Boag, Pioneer Investments

However, like the advent of the CIO position, conventions (and fashions) move on. We have to accept that a top leadership role that demands some depth of technological understanding can have a different strategic focus in any particular organisation — indeed type of organisation or sector. So a Chief Data Officer will have particular responsibility for the harvesting of value from the data in the organisation, possibly leavened by some from external sources, and the performance and governance of all related activities.

Digital transformation
The Chief Digital Officer, on the other hand, will usually be a job focussed firmly on digital transformation and innovation. In the meantime, we will often have a Chief Information Security Officer as well because cybersecurity has moved front and centre in view of the universal threat level.

But to focus on data, Edward Boag of Pioneer Investments is very clear that in the financial services industry his job as Chief Data Officer has two main drivers.

“The first,” says Boag, “is control of all the data we have in the company and the second is using it to advantage. The control ranges from governance obligations to ensuring the accuracy, consistency and completeness of our data assets. You have to have all of that to report to clients and management and regulators. It may seem obvious but in fact it is not at all easy because in any big established financial services group there are inevitably silos of data historically.”

Control and value
Once you have that control, Boag says, you can gain value from the data. “Sales and transaction data, CRM and much else can identify opportunities for more business. You can then move on to what is trendily called Big Data by mining large quantities of unstructured data for information that can give the company competitive advantage, for example by understanding client behaviours. But you can also use for control and oversight internally, for example in the financial sector to ensure we are always behaving properly. It will also enhance security in any industry.”

In business today, Boag believes, the CIO title has become something of a misnomer. “A CIO tends to be concerned with applications while the tech infrastructure comes under the CTO. The CIO can look after the building of databases, the tools to transport and transform data as required by the business users. But the CIO is not usually concerned with controlling the correctness of the data. As CDO, I am generally regarded as a business person, who would own the applications, and I would dictate that we should check and fix the data as far upstream as possible and ensure it is fit for purpose.

“Once inaccurate data enters the systems, it is much more expensive and difficult to clean it out. In that sense, the CDO is the business owner who instructs the CIO as to how the systems architecture should serve the business activity. It is more about the content than the means of handling it and indeed the data itself is in many respects a product so you have to be concerned about the processes that generate it.”

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